By Kevin Zimmerman
Former Mayor David Dinkins loved to spread the gospel of New York City’s eclectic makeup of cultures and people by referring to it as a “gorgeous mosaic.”
Astoria comedian Christian Finnegan agrees with Dinkins’ sentiments about The Big Apple to a point.
“When people talk about mosaics, everyone talks about the pretty glass and tile pieces,” Finnegan said. “Nobody talks about the hard goo that holds it all together and keeps the pieces separated.”
For Finnegan it is the metaphorical goo — providing real and imagined oases in the urban jungle — that keeps most New Yorkers sane. It’s a theme he explores in his one-man show “Gorgeous Mosaic,” which he debuted at Manhattan’s People’s Improv Theater in late spring.
For about an hour, and with only a few sheets of notes on a nearby music stand and a lone glass of water on a low table, Finnegan regales the audience with humorous and somewhat irreverent anecdotes about his life in New York.
To say Finnegan has a love-hate relationship with his adopted hometown would be kind of an understatement.
“You’re not a real New Yorker until you think you’d be happier somewhere else,” Finnegan told the crowd.
Raised in the tony Boston suburb of Acton, Mass., Finnegan, 41, arrived in the city in 1991 to study acting and play writing at New York University.
He had performed in high school musicals, including the lead in “Grease,” and he had a role in a mostly white production of “The Wiz” — it was the Boston suburbs — and eventually transferred to a performing arts high school in Natick, Mass. But not long after arriving at NYU, he soured on the profession.
“I got sick of actors and theater in general,” he said. “I didn’t want to be an oracle for somebody else’s work.”
The answer turned out to be something funny: stand-up comedy.
Finnegan could write his own material and almost immediately perform it for an audience.
While finding his voice, Finnegan discovered he did not fit neatly into any of the industry’s labels for comics.
“When I started, I was too alternative for mainstream places and not alternative enough for alternative clubs,” Finnegan said.
But he performed wherever he could, using the city’s diverse club scene as a comedy classroom.
“The alternative audiences want something real and organic,” he said. “At the mainstream places I learned how to hone my craft. I love being able to do both, but it sort of makes you a man without a country.”
Eventually Finnegan found a home on basic cable television, when VH1 tapped him to be one of the talking heads for a new show, “I Love the 80s.” Finnegan and a slew of other young comics would offer funny and often off-color quips about video clips from the 1980s.
The network gave the green light to the show, but not to Finnegan.
“It had been an internal pilot, just to show the executives what it would be like,” Finnegan said. “When the show got picked up, they said, ‘get rid of the nobodies.’”
He had better luck with his second VH1 project, “Best Week Ever.”
This program’s format focused on popular culture and celebrity news but still provided comedians with an outlet to showcase their humor.
National exposure helped prop up Finnegan’s profile with comedy club owners around the country, who started to book him for shows.
But traveling presented a whole new set of problems for this New York-centric performer.
“A lot of the material I had written can’t be taken on the road,” Finnegan said. “So much of it is local, and about New York.”
As more of his observations about city life developed into humorous and sometimes absurdist monologues, “Gorgeous Mosaic” started to take shape.
During the show, he discusses some of the differences between Queens and its neighbor to the south.
“There’s no mythology to living in Queens,” Finnegan said. “In Brooklyn, everyone is all, ‘what does it mean to be from Brooklyn?’ In Queens, people are like, ‘that’s nice, but I have to go to work.’”
He riffs on the Disney-fication of New York, which he blames on Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Not only is the “bad old New York” gone, but the current one leaves Finnegan a bit cold.
“No one lives in Manhattan. It’s too expensive,” Finnegan said. “It’s become like a living history theme park.”
Following the initial two-night run at PIT, Finnegan expects to continue tweaking the piece.
He envisions Powerpoint slides and music to accompany certain parts of the show before he introduces “Gorgeous Mosaic” 2.0.
“I want to book another run, have investors come and hire a real director,” Finnegan said.
His schedule will also be filled with appearances at comedy clubs around the country.
“There’s nothing like one person with a microphone. It’s so clean. It’s so simple,” Finnegan said. “It’s as close to an artist as you can come. Plus I get twitchy if I don’t do stand-up.”
And despite some recent success with his role on the TBS series “Are We There Yet?” Finnegan does not see a move to sitcom actor coming anytime soon, especially if that required working in Hollywood.
“I like L.A., but it’s not home,” Finnegan said. “I can travel a lot, but I always know I’m coming back to New York. It’s like a disease you catch.”
Christian Finnegan’s stand-up show, “The Fun Part,” is now available on Netflix. For more information about Finnegan and his upcoming performances check his website at www.christianfinnegan.com.